Wajiha Arooj, a Pakistani woman, had her life was ruined by idle gossip. She recently won a 17-year long legal battle against her school, the University of the Punjab in Lahore, which triggered the gossip that dishonored her. It is a shame that a young girl who is trying hard to study and make herself succeed in life can be held back by gossip and stories.
She was studying for her Master’s degree in English, and she was accidentally marked as absent for an exam and received a failing grade. Typically, a minor error like this would be inconsequential, but in a conservative society like Pakistan, a girl saying she is somewhere and not being there sullies her reputation. Dating is typically not allowed without a chaperone and the girl is disgraced by her peers. When she went to the university to correct their error, she got the response that they were unaware of her ‘activities’ or whereabouts on the day of her exam. The girl is definitely not at all to blame in this situation. When looking at the situation, the university is also not to blame completely. A society where a girl can be cut down just because her exact location was not known for one hour of one particular day should not exist.
The news of Ms Arooj’s alleged absence reached her family and her peers. “Even my mother looked at me in a strange way, with doubt in her eyes,” she said. “My cousins started asking me questions on why I missed the exam.” The gossip, she said, spread so far and wide that it became difficult for her to face her classmates, who taunted her. “Gossiping in the classroom, they would mockingly say that one can go anywhere on the pretext of taking an exam. And they would make sure that I could hear them.” Relatives and family friends had already objected to her taking evening classes. As the gossip spread, they wondered whether she had been skipping classes all year long and going somewhere else. “At one point I was so distressed I even considered committing suicide,” she said.
So she took action against the university in the Lahore High Court. Her immediate family fully backed her and her father, who is a practicing lawyer and a retired judge, represented her. Four months later, university officials produced her exam answer sheet in court. They blamed the error on a failure by clerical staff to check the attendance sheet properly. The university then corrected the error and issued a new examination result, while the court ruled that the university had been negligent. But, said Ms Arooj, the damage had already been done. “It was very difficult for me to regain the same respect I had among the people around me,” she said. She then sued the university for damaging her reputation.